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Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2014 Jun;35(2):106-8. doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000044.

Peripheral postmortem redistribution of morphine.

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  • 1From the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office, San Antonio, TX.


It is known that postmortem drug concentrations can vary depending on the sampling site and that, in general, central sites have higher drug concentrations than do peripheral sites. It has also been suggested that clamping the femoral vessel before drawing the sample may eliminate possible contribution from central sites. Morphine is a commonly prescribed and commonly encountered opiate medication that is often found in postmortem examinations, both as a cause of death and also as an incidental finding. It is important to understand the degree of postmortem redistribution of morphine to peripheral sites and whether clamping the femoral vessel can eliminate postmortem redistribution of morphine to ensure the correct interpretation of postmortem morphine concentrations. Morphine drug concentrations were evaluated in clamped and unclamped femoral vein blood samples at 3 different times before autopsy, and no significant change in either the clamped or the unclamped femoral vein morphine concentration was seen over time. Furthermore, no significant difference was found between the clamped and unclamped blood concentrations at any period. Therefore, it can be concluded that for morphine, unclamped femoral blood samples do not show significant redistribution from central sites within the first 24 hours after death in bodies kept refrigerated at 4°C.

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